Chaplain’s Messages 2016
Chaplain’s Message January 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Antidisestablishmentarianism vs Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
How times change! When I was a little boy the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” was the longest word in English. It was a “real” word. It had a history of usage and real meaning starting in 19th century England. It refers to opposition (anti) to the idea that the official established body (notably the Church of England) should no longer be official (disestablished). The word has been tweaked by adding the suffix –istically, for a total of 34 letters, and with various prefixes, but generally for the purpose making a big word, not for general usage. The issue of separation of Church and State rolls back and forth in waves in global and local politics. As a “religious” fraternity, Freemasonry is a partner to those discussions. This being the “Chaplain’s Message”, I will step back from that fray here.
There are lists of much longer (hundreds of thousands of letters) of technical, medical, and chemical terms. Most dictionary editors call them “terms” rather than words.
But Richard and Robert Sherman wrote a song for Disney’s 1961 movie Mary Poppins called Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It has come into the common language as a fantasy word, meaning, Mary tells us, “atoning for educability through delicate beauty”, or more simply “something to say when you have nothing to say”. The Sherman brothers were sued for stealing the made-up word, but won in court by showing the word had been used previously with various spellings and usages, recalled from their childhoods.
Now I’d like to remind you that short-needled evergreens have a short name- fir. And long-needled evergreens have a longer name- pine. Did you know that acronyms were first invented in the 20th century? AKA, IBM, JFK, OS9, etc. Words expand and contract.
As speculative masons, we employ some unusual words with regularity. Most have historic meanings, even if uncommon now. Indue, imbue, endow. Gimme a brake! Enuf already!
While our language changes as words are created, and revised, from tongue to attentive ear, our institution goes on. We know our “secrets” are not so much passwords, handshakes, and signs. Our “secrets” are our public tools for leading better lives in a better world. So Mote it be.
(Mote is a four letter word!)
Chaplain’s Message February 2016 By Rick Rayfield
Masonry is changing. Always has. Like whole wide world. My simple question is this- are the changes helping the craft, are they improving brotherhood, are they enriching or stripping us? The electronic Trestleboard by email sure seems a big plus. Changes in ritual seem to be well-considered, even when we revive old stuff. Because of increased longevity, Masons are more elderly than ever, yet we constantly reach out to new young members, often using new technology- emails, texts, cell phones. We are more aware of Masonry around the world. We learned this year of 340 active lodges in Cuba with over 30,000 active Freemasons and Scottish Rite members. Cuba’s break from Spanish colonial rule was led by freemasons, just as were the liberations of the United States, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Throw the French revolution on that list. What revolutions in the future might masonry support? Where will we stand again for human rights and dignity, democratic governments, and trust between men of good will?
We have our regular work as freemasons to abide. We have changes to employ to improve that work. And we should be alert for that future time, those moments of opportunity, when we will be called to support justice and freedom. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The duty of Masons is to be prepared, to remember our historic roles, to employ our sacred honor to fashion our own lives and the world around us according to the designs of the Grand Architect of The Universe. As the world changes, we must- as Abraham Lincoln said- “Think anew, and Act anew, and then we shall save our country.” (Happy Birthday – George and Abe. It’s your month!)
Chaplain’s Message March 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Founding Fathers- Hamilton and Burr?
It is often said that the Founding Fathers of the United States, France, Ecuador/Bolivia, and Cuba were Freemasons. We are keenly aware of some of the most illustrious- George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and others. Depending on your lists, 16% of signers of the Declaration of Independence, 46% of American Generals in the Revolutionary War and 44% of signers of the Constitution were Freemasons. Such lists and numbers are never the whole story. Brother Paul Revere is not on most lists of “Founding Fathers” despite his historic riding role on the 18th of April 18 in ‘75, made famous some 88 years later by poet Henry W. Longfellow. The hero of Broadway at present is Alexander Hamilton, a signer of the Constitution but not a Freemason- despite some wishful but weak claims that he was. His antagonist in history, Aaron Burr, was Vice-President under Thomas Jefferson (after an Electoral College tie between them) who later pressed charges of treason against Burr. Burr and Jefferson were not a Freemasons, but are often cited as “Founders”. 39% of Vice-Presidents have been Freemasons, and 14 of 44 Presidents. Lists of “Founding Fathers” typically run 150-200 people, including some “Founding Mothers”. And how many thousands of other patriots are not listed? Think on them.
Now we see Hamilton on Broadway, based on Ron Chernow’s biography of him. The Founding Fathers are played by actors and actresses of color in contemporary music. The melodic rapping has received wide and wild acclaim (and memorization by my daughters). Like Longfellow’s Revere, Hamilton’s place in American history is being publicly enlightened. Hamilton deserves praise- the man and the musical.
Let us keep perspective. While we are duly proud of Freemasons in our nation, and in others, it is a mesh of Freemasons and others in the brotherhood of mankind that have nurtured democracy and justice, and battled ignorance, injustice, and tragedy. It is not simply that Hamilton was a good guy and Burr was a bad guy. Human nature and the affairs of state are seldom simple. Does Aaron Burr deserve his own Broadway show? Perhaps he gets fair shrift in “Hamilton”. In today’s world, we see broad designs of the Grand Architect, and try to implement them. But as we hear in the Fellowcraft symbolism, Divine Truth surpasses human understanding. Truth is not always simple or clear. As we review history, and the role of Freemasonry, we may find that revisiting the facts both reveals the raw truth and also uncovers mysterious complexity. The Grand Architect challenges us, not to duel, but to seek understanding.
Chaplain’s Message April 2016 By Frederick Rayfield 33 ⁰
April Cruel or Fools?
April is known to poets as cruel- the snow clears and we see what was wrecked by snow and ice and wind. We see the dead leaves decayed from last year. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14th. The IRS makes us tally up our debt (or refund!) on April 15th. April was not used as a girl’s name until the 1940s.
But on the positive side, April showers bring May flowers. And poet Eliot says April breeds lilacs- albeit out of the dead land. April 1st is largely regarded as a fun day, for the practical jokes. (my nieces once marked all the mirrors “Warning! People in the mirror are older than they appear.” The original fools on April 1 were people who did not recall that the New Year Day was moved back to January 1st. Said who? Many of them continued to play the fool- enjoying two party days instead of one. Or more!
April reminds me of our compasses. Do our compasses roughly demand we stay within bounds? Or do the compasses remind us that by carefully circumscribing our bounds, we can live more freely and fully within those bounds? The limits keep us alive, living sociably and healthily with family and friends. Boundaries can tested, discussed, moved, and glorified or condemned. All the good stuff comes with some costs. All the “bad” stuff has its benefits. To our imperfect eyes, the designs on the Great Trestleboard are not always clear.
Ben Franklin was by some measures our nation’s most important Founding Father. All that wisdom, experience, and creativity, and contributions to good government and science and good sense. He died on April 17th, 1790, the year before Vermont became the 14th State. You could argue he did some foolish things, living with a woman out of wedlock and raising young William, then mixing it with the court ladies of Europe, hanging out with Voltaire, risking a lightning bolt through his brain, and trying not to be proud that he was humble. You have heard he was a mason. Probably a wise old fella. Nope. He joined the Freemasons when he was 24 years old, and four years later (1734) he was Grand Master of Pennsylvania. He lived another 50 years as a Freemason. Was it cruel or foolish that he served as Grand Master at such a young age?
The designs on the Trestleboard of our future may have surprises that seem cruel or foolish. Sometimes wisdom masquerades in comedy or tragedy. It was Proverbs 29:9, not Poor Richard, that warned us, “A wise man will not argue with a fool, as he will get no rest.” Brother Mark Twain’s version is also cautionary, “Do not argue with a fool, they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” My advice- approach April with caution and big smile. And start your seeds indoors.
Chaplain’s Message from Rick Rayfield May, 2016
Standing in The Presence
In 1949, at age 35, Tom Kelley took stunning nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. Some of his other celebrity photos are “selfies” of him sitting next to his famous stars. Clearly he enjoyed being “in the presence” of greatness. Who doesn’t want a photo of themselves with a famous sports legend, or politician, or movie star? Our brushes with Greatness are memorable treasures.
Some twenty or thirty years later after Marilyn, Tom Kelley took a nude female photo of a model portraying the Hindu Supreme God Vishnu. I have not found a photo of him sitting with Vishnu, but I bet he snapped one. See images at www.rickrayfield.org/share. Looking at Kelley’s photo of Marilyn led me into learning about four-armed Vishnu, another version of the Grand Architect.
How many stories do we have about standing at the Pearly Gates, seeking entrance to the “Presence”? Do we have to go somewhere behind Pearly Gates to find the Divine? Do you think the Grand Architect of the Universe walked away from the Great Creation? Where is the Temple, not made of hands alone? Do you wish to be in the Presence of the Almighty, the Lord God, Adonai? Do you want to be near to the One worshipped for centuries by many names and images and stories and deep prayers and thoughts?
If that is your wish, then stand up. Stand up! You are standing in the Presence. Look around. Listen, taste, smell, and touch the world around you. Winter waning. Spring springing. Peer inside yourself. Sense your heart beating its 30 million beats per year. (Yeah- do the math!) Feel your skin that sheds and renews itself for decades. Hear the soft buzz of cells firing randomly in your brain. What you call imperfect and past prime and aching is a stunning piece of creation, as is your ability to apprehend and understand and tolerate the mystery of it. To stand in the Presence, you need only stand up. Or, like Vishnu, you may sit. And marvel. You are in the Presence- if you choose to be aware- and that Presence is with you always. So mote it be.
Chaplain’s Message May 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Standing in The Presence
In 1949, at age 35, Tom Kelley took stunning nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. Some of his other celebrity photos are “selfies” of him sitting next to his famous stars. Clearly he enjoyed being “in the presence” of greatness, even if Hollywood’s version of supremacy. Who doesn’t want a photo of themselves with a famous sports legend, or politician, or movie star? Our brushes with Greatness are memorable treasures.
Some twenty or thirty years later after Marilyn, Tom Kelley took a nude female photo of a model portraying the Hindu Supreme God Vishnu. I have not found a photo of him sitting with Vishnu, but I bet he snapped one. See images at www.rickrayfield.org/share. Kelley’s photo of Marilyn led me into learning about Vishnu, another version of the Grand Architect.
How many stories do we have about standing at the Pearly Gates, seeking entrance to the “Presence”?
Let me ask you. Do you think the Grand Architect of the Universe, the Great Creator, walked away from the work? Where is the Temple, not made of hands alone? Do you wish to be in the Presence of the Almighty, the Lord God, JHVH, I Am, Adonai? Do you want to be near to the One worshipped for centuries by many names and images and stories and deep prayers and thoughts?
If that is your wish, then stand up. Stand up! Look around. Listen, taste, smell, touch the world around you. Winter waning. Spring springing. Peer inside yourself. Sense your heart beating its 30 million beats per year. (Yeah- do the math!) Feel your skin that sheds and renews itself for decades. Hear the soft buzz of cells firing randomly in your brain. What you call imperfect and past prime and aching is a stunning piece of creation, as is your ability to apprehend and understand and tolerate the mystery of it. To stand in the Presence, you need only stand up. Or, like Vishnu, you may sit. And marvel. You are in the Presence- if you choose to be aware- and that Presence is with you always.
Chaplain’s Message June 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Svmer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu
Groweth sed, and bloweth med and springeth the woode nu,
What? This is the first stanza of a six-part round in Middle English. Yep. English. Famous since the 13th century. Still sung 800 years later. Here it is in modern English.
Summer has come in, Sing loudly, cuckoo!
The seed is growing, And the meadow is blooming, And the wood is coming into leaf now,
Oh! After a Vermont mid-May snow, perhaps summer is finally here. Cuckoo! Our language changes, but the seasons stay the same, changing somewhat predictably but surely. Life ebbs and flows. What a trick it is to flow with the changes, and hold fast to the eternal values. This song has been completely reworded with Christian words, in Latin and English. Poet Ezra Pound parodied it as “Sing Goddamm!”, and PDQ Bach ridicules it as “Summer is a cumin seed.”
Do not blink brothers! Summer’s richness will flee as quickly as our lives. Enjoy the traditions that change and fade and revive, and laugh joyously in your revels. The Middle English version ends with a billy goat farting. Too much green grass at once? Who dare complain? Sing Masons! You are rich in traditions and faith and fellowship. We may not meet for a few months, but we are hardly “dark”. Our time should pass joyously. Cuckoo!
Chaplain’s Message August, 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Three Times Around
Kalimera! This summer, I officiated at a wedding at the top of the gondola at Mt Mansfield. The bride was from a Greek family in Portsmouth . Preparing the service in the weeks before, they considered some form of exchanging crowns during the service, even though the Cliff House is not a Greek Orthodox Church. So I studied up on what happens at Greek Orthodox weddings. I wrestled with how the bride and groom, their families and friends, and I would handle a secular version of the crowned bride and groom walking three times around the altar. This sort of circumambulation is familiar from lodge and church, and yet this would be up on a mountain. Plenty of built-in majesty. I am a minister but not ordained. And I am not Greek. The crowns would be placed above the couple’s bed for their life together- a powerful symbol of the reverence we attribute to the bond of marriage.
I needed a review. I used Google Earth to zoom to the Greek island of Patmos where I studied one summer 44 years ago. I could pick out the 365 little white chapels that dot Patmos, where St John wrote the book of Revelation. Grikou Bay where I swam daily, Agriolivadi with the octopus I disturbed from a tin can, Lampi beach scattered with crazily colored rocks. Still there. Still in me. From the road plan and beach outlines, I recovered the spiritual sensibilities of Greek Orthodoxy, important to the bride and her family, even in the shade of a New England mountain.
The wedding service was lovely: A Walt Whitman poem instead of triple prayers for every action. Rings on the fingers once, not three times. No crowns. The couple chose for me to invoke the blessing of “The Architect” on their wedding vows. Through the lenses of Freemasonry, I saw the Architect’s plans more clearly. Those plans are many and varied and rich in human glory as we each build temples in our own lives. We build to our individual plans, and we build together in marriage and in community. Those designs for our lovely temples are why we offer the glory and honor due the many Names of the Creator. So mote they be. So mote we be.
Chaplain’s Massage September 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Lucky Nine, er Seven, er what?
September, the ninth month. Three threes is nine, a super lucky or super sacred number for some people. Nine branched candelabras adorned King Solomon’s Temple. So here we are at the start of a new school year. The start of a new Masonic year for lodges like ours that are “dark” in the summer. The start of a New Year in the Jewish tradition with Rosh Hashanah on Sept 4th. September, the ninth month.
Er, wait, “sept” means seven. What happened 2,000 years ago? Was it Jesus? Nope. Two Roman Emperors had months renamed for them, Julius Caesar (July) and Augustus Caesar (August). Nope. It was the insertion of January and February before that that bumped all the Roman months ahead. So months seven, eight, nine and ten (Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec) still show the bump. July and August used to be Quintius and Sextius. Oh it’s even more complicated. The first of the year used to be April 1st. Even in
the early 20th century some countries were still on an old “Julian” calendar that screwed up their planting and harvesting seasons because they had the wrong number of days in a year. Whole books have been written on our sluggish calendars.
And we are “thinking man”, homo sapiens? Did you know that in northern Maine kids get a week or three off of school in October to harvest potatoes? Harvest break – a dying tradition. Calendars and holidays are as numerous as our needs and our traditions, often without reason.
Whether nine is a lucky or sacred number or not, the ninth month is a fresh start up of our Mad River Masonic year. As we look to the outward work of our lodge, chicken pie, porch renovation, degree work, etc, let us remember the inward joy of improving our selves, tempering our passions, and improving our fellowship. Try to remember that kind of September.
Chaplain’s Message October 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Is the face of God this common?
If mankind is created in God’s image (Dei imago), then how might Masons see God as the Grand Architect of the Universe- a name we commonly use in our rituals? Are we Deputy Grand Architects?
Brother, we are in for a long roller coaster ride. Religions and texts and good and evil and philosophers and theologians. We cannot simplify the answer. It has been debated without consensus for thousands of years.
We as Masons are to create our lives as a temple, with the Temple of Solomon as a metaphoric example. How do we understand THAT idea, if we start by being created in the image of God? Roller coaster! Warned ya!
F Scott Fitzgerald in 1936 famously wrote “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
If we are created in God’s image, what’s the problem with being a divine temple? Why the struggle? The plan is on the trestleboard. The Grand Architect has made much of it very clear. Ah well, executing plans gracefully is often an art. Even if Shakespeare says we are “in action how like an angel, in apprehension like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” Does that make you happy? Hamlet neither. Can we be dust and divine at the same time, and still function?
Every plan has limits and compromises, even ones in a Divine creation. So we attend to the boundaries, and execute the plan as square as we can. We seek perfection, and yet are disappointed. The Grand Architect is called by many names. But seldom are those names Perfect. We should find comfort in functioning with faith that our attempts at perfection will leave us imperfect but hopeful and enjoying some satisfaction in our labor. Sweep a floor. Rebuild a porch. Eat healthy. Memorize a speech./ Imperfect attempts, but divine. Bless us our doubts and our faith. Bless our weakness and strength.
Chaplain’s Message November 2016 by Rick Rayfield
The Dew of Hermon
In our third degree we recite part of David’s Psalm 133 about the dew of Hermon likened to anointing oil running down the beard, even to the shirt. That dew of Hermon is more precious and extravagant than perfumed oil. Not just a few sacred drops of oil, but enough to run down our faces and clothes. The Biblical Mount Hermon is over 9000 feet tall, and the rain and melting snow from its slopes (yep- Israel’s only ski resort) nourish the River Jordan and water the land, giving life. We are awash in blessings, flowing in and around us.
The Psalm is connected to the book of Samuel where we find David’s “house” alive and comfortable, and the Great Architect still living in a tent. King David offers to build a house for the Lord, a place for the Ark of the Covenant. The response is that the Lord does not need anything more than the tent he has, moving with the people. Even more! King David is promised a “house”- not a palace but a lineage.
Somewhat surprisingly the heroic and eloquent David, slayer of Goliath and author of Psalms, is forbidden to build a Temple . David was a warrior, not a man of peace, and has even sent his own general into battle to die in order to have the man’s wife. Bad King, no Temple for you! Rather than David or his eldest son, his youngest son Solomon is chosen for the task of building The Temple.
Solomon’s Temple is now a symbol and piece of history, its foundation a Wailing Wall. What carries on are not our physical buildings. The Temples we Masons are committed to build are our lives- lives of brotherhood and service, servants in the joy of building together. We are promised a “house eternal “ not by building palaces or cities, but by building lives of goodness that include our individual selves and our families and friends and community and nation and Creation. Psalm 133 begins, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
These plans on the Trestleboard are often beyond our comprehension, and we are sometimes blinded by doubt or confusion or grief. Quarks and galaxies and black holes. Horrific wars and tragedies. But even seen dimly, the Architect from his tent can teach us patterns to build our own houses and temples. With stamina, not stone. With sincerity, not cedar. With mettle, not metal. With kindness, not clay. For the dew of Hermon flows through us. SO mote it be.
John Donne: “No man is an island… if a clod be washed away, Europe is the lesser as well as if a promontory were… for I am involved in mankind. Therefore never ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Chaplain’s Message December 2016 by Rick Rayfield
Always More, More or Less
Ever see a squirrel with his cheeks so full of seeds he cannot get through the hole he made in your barn? You can’t blame him for trying to stock up for a long cold winter. But you ought to laugh.
Last night I made some buttered angel hair pasta with modest shrimp sliced into even more modest halves, and a bowl of mashed sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows gently browned under the oven broiler. (Also a handy way to finish off chicken pie biscuits. Unlike Julia Child I can never recall where I left my propane torch.) Comfort food requested by my kiddo. This morning, when I went to grab leftovers for lunch, I was surprised how little sweet potato was left. Almost a whole huge sweet potato had been consumed by each of us.
Where does saving for the winter end and gluttony begin? When do we focus too much on our anxiety of not having enough and our desire to have simply MORE? Do we sometimes fail to appreciate what we have? Maybe the only thing I like about cleaning around the house or my workshop or garage is seeing all the stuff I have. Same goes for tidying up computer files of photos and mail. Almost every year I have the bright idea to give a great book to one of my daughters, and it turns out I have given it to her before, often several times before.
The winter days have less light, the holidays have more lights. My giving budget is stretched. I have too many things to do. I am full up to here again with the repetition of the True Story of one religion or the other. It must be December the last month of the year. It’s a good time to dust off precious memories, and old ornaments, and say quietly to yourself the meaning of old symbols , and share with someone the sadness of missing old ones dear to us. It’s a good time to be wistful, not wasteful. To be present, not presenting. To live lightly and brightly. Spit out a few seeds and let them sprout in spring. Spring’s a coming. Enjoy winter’s longer brighter full moons. It’s not the size of the temple, it’s what you do with it.